[4 min read] The Bob Marley melanoma story

This is the Bob Marley story. Passionate about skin cancer prevention, detection and treatment, HealthCert shares this story every time we teach about melanoma.

Bob Marley was a Jamaican singer, songwriter and musician, and considered one of the pioneers of reggae. He died in 1981 aged 36 from a melanoma that started under his big toenail in 1977.

The first doctor that he consulted thought that the lesion on his toe was a soccer injury. After it began to look worse, Marley consulted another doctor who biopsied the spot and discovered that it was melanoma. The recommendation was to amputate his toe, but Marley chose to have excision surgery instead, in which the surgeon removed the nail and surrounding tissue.

Marley had no further treatment and did well until he collapsed in New York City in 1980. He was rushed to hospital and tests revealed that the melanoma had spread to his brain, lungs and stomach. He refused his doctor’s treatment plan and went to Germany to try alternative treatments including exercise, ozone injections and vitamins.

Marley’s condition continued to worsen and he chartered a plane to return to Jamaica. While in flight, his condition became critical and the plane did an emergency landing in Miami where Marley passed away. He never made it back to his beloved Jamaica. Marley was reportedly only 82 pounds when he died.

We share Marley’s story every time we teach about melanoma because his story demonstrates that even people with darker skin can get melanoma. In addition, in those with dark skin, melanoma often develops in places that do not get a lot of sun exposure such as inside the mouth, on the tongue, under fingernails and toenails, and on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Further, Marley’s story highlights the importance of primary care physicians being confident and skilled in the diagnosis of skin cancer, and shows that early detection gives patients the best chance of successful treatment. If Marley’s first doctor hadn’t misdiagnosed the melanoma, Marley may have received earlier treatment that could have potentially saved his life.

His story also reminds patients not to be complacent and to take precautions against skin cancer, no matter their skin type.

Just like his music, Bob Marley’s melanoma story lives on to educate and impact others.

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3 comments on “[4 min read] The Bob Marley melanoma story

  1. I too had a melanoma under my Big Toenail in September 1977. It looked like a blood blister only kept growing.It was a bluish blackish color, very weird. By the time I went to a Doctor, I ended up in the hospital that afternoon and was told to prepare to lose the toe and probably the entire leg. It ended up having not spread and I lost the side of my big toe. The tumour got almost to the bone but did not metastasise . I had never heard of melanoma then, I was 21 years old. When Bob Marley passed from this very same cancer, it finally hit me that I could very well have died from this very small but not deadly cancer.

    1. Glad u opted for (no choice I read) removal of toe. Marley was so young. My mom died if lung that metastasized to everywhere. She was 56 and miss her dearly. Glad you got help ASAP

  2. My son is 21 we thought his discoloured fingernail on his little finger of his dominant hand was due to an injury. He’s had it since 2015. While at University studying Computer Science his medical friends advised him to get it checked out. We saw a GP and within days now have an appointment booked at the local hospital. He’s terrified he needs his hands for typing, he’s only into year 2 of his degree he’s 21 and scared he has cancer. The finger is showing as a Subungual Melanoma with a Hutchinsons marker.